The ecology and phylogeography of the common lizard (Zootoca vivipara) in Ireland

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Lyne, Linda
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University College Cork
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Ireland has only one native terrestrial reptile, the common lizard Zootoca vivipara. Many people are unaware of its presence in Ireland and little research has been conducted on the species here. However, understanding the ecology of the common lizard in Ireland could greatly help with the conservation of our only native lizard. Here we show that records of common lizards in Ireland are predominantly from coastal areas and that it occupies smaller microhabitats, such as banks or stone walls, which potentially have microclimates that offer advantages for thermoregulation. Using records of Z. vivipara sightings from the National Biodiversity Data Centre, this research identified data gaps within the distribution of Z. vivipara in Ireland, but it is uncertain if these gaps are explained by unsuitable habitat type or low sampling effort. In addition, distribution of records were found to be centred around coastal areas and sites popular with human outdoor recreation. Recorder bias, habitat suitability, and coastal sunshine hours were identified as potential factors influencing the distribution of records. A focused study on the Iveragh Peninsula, in the south-west of Ireland, observed Z. vivipara from habitat types such as upland peatland/heath (23%), gardens (17%) and old stone walls/ruins (16%). Wind speed, air temperature, and relative humidity were environmental parameters examined in this research to investigate the influence of microclimates within the microhabitats which lizards occupy. Wind speed was found to be significantly lower at ground level (P<0.05) compared to 2m height, and thus, wind may have an influence on where lizards are found within habitats. In addition, through genetic analysis, we confirm for the first time, that Irish Z. vivipara belong to the Western viviparous clade. This brings Irish phylogeographic research on the species up to date with similar research in other parts of the species’ range. We also identify that unique haplotypes are present in Ireland and that unique lineages also exist within geographically disparate populations here. Additional genetic sampling is recommended to fully understand how Z. vivipara colonised Ireland post-glacially. It is recommended that a long-term study is established to perform focused surveys for lizard presence/absence in areas where data gaps occur in sightings records of the species in Ireland. This focused study should also identify reasons for data gaps, such as habitat suitability or recorder effort. A population dynamics and behavioural study is needed to examine how environmental parameters influence Z. vivipara presence/absence in certain habitats. Finally, additional samples for genetic sequencing would greatly benefit the research into the different haplotypes identified in this study. A more geographically widespread range of samples, including from off-shore islands, would aid in understanding how Z. vivipara arrived and dispersed in Ireland.
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Zootoca vivipara , Common lizard , Phylogeography , Reptile
Lyne, L. E. 2023. The ecology and phylogeography of the common lizard (Zootoca vivipara) in Ireland. MRes Thesis, University College Cork.
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